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Living the lobby life: The new South Wharf Tower

Is it a residence, a workspace or a public space? Craig Tan Architects has created a design that is all of these and more with new lobby areas for South Wharf Tower. We walk you through this project of blurred boundaries.

Living the lobby life: The new South Wharf Tower

There was no doubt that the lobby areas of South Wharf Tower in Melbourne’s South Wharf shopping and dining precinct were in great need of a redesign.

With a sparse interior, no facility and a black and white colour palette, the lobby was merely a place to pass through, to arrive at the elevators and journey to the offices above. Now that there has been a refurbishment, the lobby is a vibrant centre for meeting, working and gathering and all because of excellent spatial planning and a great design.

The client, CBRE Global Investors, commissioned Craig Tan Architects to work its magic and re-invigorate the lobby spaces and lift lobby of the 13-year-old building.

The idea was to create a warm and tactile space that would promote connection, provide amenity and enable use, and the result is a first-class demonstration of change through excellent design.

Principal and lead on the project, Craig Tan with senior associate Tessa Williamson and architectural assistant Diem Le, have brought to this project a new perspective.

Tan’s vision was to create spaces that are more like a home or restaurant and this is what makes the South Wharf Tower lobby redesign a winner.

There were challenges of course. Fixed layout of spaces, immovable columns, piano-style marble floor and lack of light in some areas but perhaps the most difficult aspect was the fire egress strategy which stipulated that, as the lobby was a fire exit, there should be no flammable finishes, furnishings or fittings within the space.

Now that’s a dilemma for a designer who wants to populate an interior with furnishings. However, with this project, Craig Tan Architects thought outside the box and working with fire consultants, they reconfigured the core, created a separate fire corridor, added in firewalls and re-designed the majority of the area for use.

The lobby comprises three separate spaces for guests and office workers. From the entrance, to the right is a spacious lounge for meeting and working, to the left a more intimate furniture grouping and straight ahead, the lift lobby.

The lounge is more akin to a restaurant or residence with a textured palette of teal green, timber hues, cream and beige. Light streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the very front of the building and it’s the ideal place to power up the laptop or phone, and work.

There are high tables with stools along the back wall, a squashy comfortable sofa, easy chairs and a coffee table in the middle and banquette seating along the glazed front. Tan has created personality through the inclusion of painted fretwork in small pavilion-like structures that help delineate areas and establish a more human-scale dimension to the lobby void.

On the solid rear wall, timber wainscotting provides depth, and a painted strip above, creates an anchor to the space. An inset carpet rug has been installed beneath the sofa and chairs and brings the furniture grouping together.

Opposite this area, and across the entrance walkway, is a smaller space with inset carpet rug beneath a cream sofa, two tan lounge chairs and coffee table, all positioned under the South Wharf Tower logo. The void here is immense and the lighting subdued but the furnishings make this area feel like a very comfortable loungeroom in a luxury home.

The last area for refurbishment was the lift lobby, and again, Tan has created a special place that exudes warmth and tactility. Extrapolating the idea of wainscotting, the red/brown timber panelling that clads the walls, extends above the lifts to cosset those in the space.

It also changes the height-perspective as does the cream timber baton-like ceiling that complements the black and white lines of the marble flooring.

What was once a place that people simply moved through has now become a destination in its own right. It’s a place to meet or work, catch your breath and relax but definitely somewhere that has its own character and personality.

As Tan says, “We’re really focused on people and creating memorable experiences for people. It’s the idea of really trying to reach out and to create communities, where people can forge memories, and that they come back to again and again. Creating the spaces that have loose edges and allow people to interact, to have sensory inspiration moments and engage with the space and people around them, is what we have tried to achieve.”

Craig Tan Architects focuses on hospitality, health and wellness, retail, commercial, cultural, civic and education design and it is the understanding of each genre, and the crossover between them, that informs the design on every project.

For South Wharf Tower, creating the visual, the experiential, all with functionality in mind has certainly been achieved and Tan and his team have set the bar high for this typology of public space. It’s warm and inviting and blurs the bounds of residential, hospitality and commercial design that is a credit to the architect.

Craig Tan Architects was shortlisted in the 2022 INDE.Awards in The Health & Wellbeing Space with its project Flow Yoga.

Craig Tan Architects

Jessica Lillico

Eve Wilson

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